Corpus Christi

Studio visits with Sheila Rogers, Arts Center Corpus Christi, K Space Gallery and Studios.

I went from beach to beach and drove straight to Joe Peña's studio, an artist I had met back in 2009 when I traveled a show to the A&M Corpus Christi, or TAMU. We didn't have a chance to do a studio visit then, and I was grateful that everything fell into place to allow for one this time around. Joe is a true educator, and for many years has been prolific in Corpus for his mentorship and guidance, and he is also a skilled painter.

The content of Joe's paintings come from the life of a Mexican-American person growing up in South Texas. His interests started with the intricacies of raw meat, and the random parts of animals that are cooked for consumption for dishes such as menudo and tripe. The detail in the compositions likened to Baroque era still lives, and Joe began applying this same compositional technique to the food trucks he was seeing around the city. The paintings are classical, reminiscent of Caravaggesque chiaroscuro illuminating the ubiquitous taco trucks that so clearly represent part of a culture of Mexican Americanism.

I hadn't been to Corpus since the last time I had seen Joe in 2009, and I was returning to Corpus thanks to Dianna Bluntzer. We had never met before, but Dianna had reached out to me early on in the road trip. Corpus was an obvious hole in our route and we wanted to fix that, then both the timing and distance fell into place as well. This was also the second place I was visiting where I was not in charge, and happy to take a back seat while Dianna taught me about the city.

We met at the home studio of photographer Kevin Schuster who has long been prolific in photographing dancers and performers. However, Kevin's interests had recently turned to photographing the movement of the body underwater and experimenting with the elements of water, photography and props. We hopped into Dianna's car to visit Shelia Rogers, also a photographer by trade whose practice has taken an activist turn through mixed media sculptures and installation.

Shelia walks the beach of Corpus Christi and collects the plastic objects that litter the beaches. She then meticulously cleans each object and organizes them. Her collection contains plastic bottles, lighters, parts of children's toys, straws and other random things. Shelia has a photographic eye, and then arranges the objects in compositions reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism, or large scale plexiglass sculptures filled with the detritus she has collected. The objects call attention to the issue of plastics littering the beaches and destroying the natural landscapes and habitat.

We said our goodbye's to Shelia and made our way to downtown Corpus to see KSpace Gallery, and Studios. Dianna had explained to me previously that each of the prominent spaces had started to fill specific niches within the arts community, and to fill the programming gaps from one organization to another, and recently the arts community had begun collaborating between institutions.

We went to KSpace first, a well known organization in the state that also houses studio spaces for artists above its gallery facility. The spaces are substantial sizes, and around 20 artists have studio space to work as well as a smaller gallery space for smaller pop up shows, and downstairs in the main gallery space installation was happening for the opening of "American Dream," a national juried exhibition.

We often talk about how large the state of Texas is, and how our arts communities are so very disconnected from each other because of this distance. But as I was standing in the gallery of KSpace, I actually realized just how connected our arts communities actually are, and I was really paying attention to it for the first time that I could recall. As I walked through the juried exhibition I recognized work by Celeste de Luna of Harlingen, Carol Flueckiger in Lubbock, Michael Furrh in Denton, Tina Medina in Dallas, and James Pace in Tyler. All artists I had either met with on this road trip, had worked with in the past, or recognized their names from the 1,2017 submissions to the open call. Of the list of 40 artists selected to the juried show, five of those artists were from completely different parts of the state, all of whom I knew of in some capacity, and all of whom were converging in one not-for-profit exhibition space in the city of Corpus Christi, a place that we hadn't intended to visit.

I was smiling from ear to ear as I walked through the space and the near finished installation. It is always a great feeling to run into so many friends unexpectedly.

I walked into the Art Center of Corpus Christi, an arts organization located right on the bay of Corpus Christi, and housed in what was originally a USO then turned County Tax office and City Hall annex. The building itself is a multi-functional building, and houses a cafe, multiple event spaces, a beautiful courtyard, and a ceramic workshop.As managing director of the organization, Dianna was able to explain the ins and outs of the organization, and through our conversation about the organization many of the issues that she spoke of were issues symptomatic of organizations around the state. While it is a beautiful facility, the operating budget of the Center is much lower than what it actually needs to operate successfully. Dianna and her team have been creative in bringing artists and exhibitions, and looking at different models to curate exciting exhibitions, but buildings and their facilities are not easy to maintain or keep operational. The exhibitions in the center are certainly grassroots led, and happen through a volunteer capacity, an interesting model considering it allows for much more of an open dialog amongst communities, but leaves little room for critical feedback. However, the Center seems to be in an exciting point in time. Dianna certainly has a galvanizing energy about her, and her capacity to think creatively about solutions is positioning the center to think outside of most art boxes. A mural program was recently started as part of the public programming of the center, and it has opened the doors to a younger generation of artists who are active in their communities, and once again using the center as a hub for creative activity. Dianna has her work cut out for her, but she is up for the challenge, and I have no doubt that she will continue to be a strong leader for her organization as well as in her community.

I had one more studio visit from the Open Call Submissions left in Corpus, and the first was with Mayra Zamora, a young artist who many had recommended that I visit while I was in Corpus. I was lucky to get time with Mayra, she had just experienced a fire in her studio only a few days prior and both herself and her work were unharmed, though the incident left her understandably shaken. Mayra's work is detailed but uses the visual language of her Corpus Christi Mexican American roots as primary visual subject matter. Icons of Margaritas, tacos, calaveras and even Selena are elements in Mayra's paintings and patterns. While she works with iconography that is specific to Corpus, she also incorporates the colors of the city that also define the Latino cultures living and growing up in Corpus.

I had seen all but The Art Museum of South Texas, a major art museum in Corpus, and I was determined to visit before leaving. Curator Deborah Fullerton was generous enough to make time in her day on very short notice. We pulled into the parking lot of the museum and I was amazed that the building itself sits right up on the beach, and the water literally pours over the side of the foundation onto the parking lot. The current building opened in 1972 and was designed by architect Philip Johnson, then Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta added his signature albeit subtle touch to the building in an expansion in 2006. Deborah walked me around the building, explained more of its history and programming, but once again I stopped in my tracks when I walked into the main exhibition space and recognized more voices from around the state. The exhibition was "The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today," a triennial of portraiture based at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. The show was curated from 2,500 national entries to 43 works, and I instantly recognized the work of Sedrick Huckaby and Texas Biennial alumni Rigoberto Gonzalez.

I have a habit of making myself comfortable in art spaces, but the museum gave me a strange sense of nostalgia that I couldn't shake. Legorreta was a student of Luis Barragan, a prolific architect in Mexico, whose architectural theories has influenced styles across the country. Legorreta's spaces are reminiscent of Barragan and his mentorship, and I found myself instantly homesick, but so happy to be in a space so reminiscent of home.